An Undying Aickman

THE SCHOOL FRIEND by Robert Aickman

“(I was able to construe Latin fairly well for a girl, but the italics and long s’s daunted me)”

“Haven’t you noticed by this time that everyone’s lives are full of things you can’t understand? The exceptional thing is the thing you can understand.”

…being a mission statement from the ever undying Aickman…

This story being the first person singular narration by Mel about her schooldays friendship with pretty perfect Sally (the latter extraordinarily advanced for her age culturally) and Mel’s inferiority complex when compared to Sally, but in later life Sally’s father Dr Tessler ‘dies’ and the Tessler house, opposite a dentist, is later put under Mel’s care while a more mentally and physically run-down, if still “absurdly virginal”, version of Sally is in hospital after being run over — and all manner of strange things seem to have gone on, in fact are still going on…some of which may, in later hindsight, become spoilers…

There are indeed so many things in this story, generously crammed with clues as to their nature, clues that so far, for me, lead nowhere. Except, if one is experienced in creating wholes from parts, one can potentially spend a whole lifetime cohering them into a meaning, as I intend to spend what little lifetime I have left doing…

“It was an ordinary enough school, and sex was a preoccupation among us. Sally’s attitude was surprisingly new and unusual.” — an old-fashioned horse hearse bearing Dr Tessler, as reflected between “the aggregations of ‘Shredded Wheat’ in the window” — a removal man called  Mr Ditch — a picture postcard of Mitylene — Sally’s “distasteful sandals” — “The room was horrible. I had expected eccentricity, discomfort, bookworminess, even perhaps the slightly macabre.” — “six uniform pink cakes from the nearest shop, and a flavourless liquid full of floating ‘strangers’.” — the late Dr Tessler’s papers with a “top dressing of flaky black particles” — “unskilled cuttings and bodgings” — “the chestnut about the architect who forgot the staircase.” — Miss Garvice’s yellow cat — a room in the Tessler house that seems designed for aid-raids — “it is possible for a child to be born in a manner you never dream of.” — 

I will not divulge what godmother was offered what godchild, an entity that anyone would find hard to conceive. And I will not divulge certain other things, such as the state that Miss Garvice at the cottage hospital found Sally to be in after having been run down. Nor will I divulge the eventual outcome of the story and what some of us could imagine from various unimaginabilities. Suffice to say, this story probably says more about Aickman than any other of his stories — more even than Aickman himself could in fact conceive about himself. From himself, too.

The jury is still out…  however passé. 

What of the woolly animals? Toys?

And what of the “acquired iron feet” and other bone-structural changes? God as an architect who has forgotten the staircase but remembered the concrete rafters for aid-raids? The drumming noise of bombers?

Like Donne with his shroud.

Mission statements and their clues, galore…

“Psychologists, I recollected, have ascertained that the comparative inferiority of women in contexts described as purely intellectual, is attributable to the greater discouragement and repression of their curiosity when children.”

“(it was a job for a man, or for no one)”

All my reviews of Aickman:

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